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You already know you need to carry extra hand-sanitizer when going through airport security check points because those plastic bins are crawling with bacteria, but the germs don’t stop there.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Marketplace investigators took 18 short-haul flights at various times throughout the day between Ottawa and Montreal on Canada’s major carriers: Air Canada, WestJet and Porter, and they collected 100 samples from inside the planes.

The staff swabbed seatbelts, tray tables, headrests, seat pockets and restroom handles and found bacteria and other harmful pathogens like yeast, mold and E. coli across all surfaces. The dirtiest surface? Headrests. Followed by the seat pockets. Seat pockets are home to left behind belongings like used tampons, condoms, dirty diapers, and half eaten sandwiches, flight attendants told CBC.

Microbiologist Keith Warriner tested the samples at a lab at the University of Guelph and said that nearly half of the surfaces swabbed contained levels of bacteria or yeast and mold that could put a person at risk for infection, like strep throat. Warriner suggested that the presence of yeast and mold is because the surfaces are not cleaned well or often.

And sure enough, more than a dozen former flight attendants and customer service representatives told Marketplace about their experiences working on airplanes and said there is not enough time to properly disinfect an entire aircraft. One former WestJet employee, Stéphane Poirier, said the staff typically has less than 15 minutes to ready the plane. Additionally, Poirier also said that cleaning solutions are often not allowed on board.

While headrests may carry the most bacteria, don’t resort to putting your head down on the tray table. Another microbiologist, Jason Tetro, said that the levels of staph and mold Marketplace found on tray tables is evidence that the surface hasn’t been cleaned in quite a while. Tetro explained that the kind of staph lingering on the tray tables may cause skin and soft-tissue infections, such as boils.
These results are disgusting, and unsurprising. Planes are dirty, but that’s not going to prevent you from traveling. TSA allows disinfecting wipes, so definitely pack those on your next trip to rid your seat of germs.
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